Last month, Microsoft unveiled its student, and albeit trial, version of a social site. It’s a lot different from the conventional social networking. So much so, one might even be tempted to not categorize it as social but for the fact that social is so early in its evolution, it could conceivably morph into a totally different beast. Or into several different forms than, say, Facebook.
“Microsoft is testing the waters for their step into social. So.cl allows them to launch a product with a social capability, gauge consumer feedback and market adoption – all of which can feedback into future social products,” said Neha Dharia, a Consumer Telecoms analyst at the technology think tank Ovum.
Eden Zoller, Ovum’s principal analyst, underscores a couple of facts.
“Microsoft So.cl is not a fully-fledged social network and it is far too early to even suggest it could be a rival to Google+ or Facebook,” he said. Two, chances are it never will be a rival to the social networking leader, or Google+.
An ‘image board’?
So what is So.cl?
It is an experimental project of Microsoft Research’s FUSE Labs, run with partner schools such as the University of Washington, Syracuse University and New York University. Users share content in several categories but not with only friends. So you have links such as Feed, Post, Profile, Video Parties and Interests, using uses Bing search.
PC World, the tech magazine, describes So.cl as an “image board where you post and share web-based content.” Dharia calls it “an experimental research project focused on the future of social experiences and learning, especially among younger people.”
Microsoft was an early and small investor in Facebook. But it rarely went beyond and until now didn’t make any serious effort to create a social networking site of its own.
Today, Facebook is the default social site of the world. With 900 million members, it would be the third largest “country” in the world, behind only China and India. Such is its dominance. In comparison, Google+ — again a late and weak effort from the search giant — is a “ghost town,” as some have characterised it for its low level of activity, compared with the frenzied updates seen on Facebook.
The question then is: Is going social a necessity for the tech giant, given Microsoft is a terribly late entrant?
“Ovum believes that social has become an integral part of any online consumer facing product, and keeping that in mind, we would not classify So.cl as a ‘me-too’ strategy. It is necessary for Microsoft to introduce this in order to remain competitive in the long run,” asserts Dharia.
Is the somewhat snoozy giant awakening?
What does it take to create a robust, and popular, social site?
To be fair, So.cl is a “genuine attempt at innovation from Microsoft’s side,” according to Dharia. However, “we are not certain it’s a strong enough step to win in the social battle,” she added.
The final verdict on So.cl from Ovum: It “will most likely remain an experiment at heart, which is no bad thing and Microsoft will still walk away with valuable insights and experience that can help improve its overall search capabilities, which is its major priority.”